Disabled student takes state to court

Miki Perkins
December 31, 2008

A VICTORIAN teenager with multiple disabilities is suing the Education Department for discrimination, claiming it failed to provide him with a full-time education.

Alex Walker, 13, and his mother, Paige Walker, have launched legal action against the State of Victoria, claiming he was not allowed to attend school full-time, was banned from school excursions and forced to return home for lunch because funding was not available for a teaching aide.

They also say he was not allowed to travel on the school bus, forcing Mrs Walker to drive 400 kilometres each week to take her son to school.

Alex, who lives with his family in the west Victorian town of Branxholme, has a number of disabilities, including Asperger’s syndrome — an autism spectrum disorder — dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.

Access Law, acting for the family, will tell the Federal Court in February that at the age of five Alex had a “bright” IQ of 120, but this has now dropped below 100.

His mother said yesterday Alex had the spelling ability of a seven-year-old, wrote in a mixture of capital and lower-case letters, was far behind in maths and could only “skim read”. She claims discrimination has led to a drop in his IQ, frustration, anxiety and a loss of educational opportunities. “As for a social circle, he doesn’t really have one,” she said.

Because of his disabilities, particularly Asperger’s syndrome, which is characterised by difficulty in social interactions, Alex resorts to swearing when under stress. His mother said teachers unfamiliar with the disability could misconstrue this as bullying or controlling behaviour.

Anti-discrimination consultant Julie Phillips said there were many students similar to Alex who were refused full-time school attendance because of a lack of funds.

“Victoria has a long way to go in offering equal access to education for students with disabilities,” Ms Phillips said.

When Alex started primary school in 2001 at the Branxholme-Wallacedale Community School, the school failed to apply for funding from the Education Department for an aide, his mother said.

When Alex started secondary school in 2007, he was forced to move between an independent high school, distance education and home schooling because the department would not fund support for his full-time education, Mrs Walker said.

When he finally got funding, Alex was only able to go part-time to Baimbridge College, in Hamilton, and was not allowed to travel on the school bus.

Last year, the Government was ordered to pay more than $80,000 compensation to 16-year-old student Rebekah Turner, who has a severe language disorder and learning disability, when it was found that the Education Department had failed to provide classroom help for her.

The Government has since sought leave to appeal against the decision.

The department, which will contest Alex Walker’s allegations, said it would be inappropriate to comment while the matter was before the courts.

A spokesman said that since 1999, expenditure for students with additional learning needs had increased by 86 per cent.

This story was found at: http://www.theage.com.au/national/disabled-student-takes-state-to-court-20081230-77f2.html

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